In October 2011, prize winner James Kofi Annan visited Grinnell College
to receive his 2011 Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize award and
share his experience with the Grinnell community and the other prize
>> SARAH PURCELL: James founded the organization Challenging Heights in 2003 to provide education and support for children who have emerged from human trafficking and to prevent children from being sold into slavery in the country of Ghana.
His organization is really remarkable. As president, he provides for more than 500 children in a Challenging Heights school as well as education and support for survivors who go through a reorientation process and are physically, literally saved from forced labor.
>> JAMES KOFI ANNAN:
I was sold into slavery on the lake at the age of six, and trafficked to and from many villages. The story of many of the children trapped there is similar to mine.
I remember bad days when I was a child, being beaten, knocked down, pushed under the lake to remove trap nets. And being trapped myself, and sometimes almost dying. And being left to rotten, only for the trafficker to come back and see me alive, and then, immediately send me back to work. Being denied food, and especially any medical care. I have been afflicted with bilharzia, one of the most painful diseases ever lived. And yet, I have to work 17 hours a day.
But because through all of these things there has been a momentum, and I have found my vitality, amid energy, the reason for my existence, that has brought me where I am today talking to you.
If there is something that you would like to do and you feel like it should be done then you should do it and do it very, very well. And doing things well comes from within. I believe in doing things in an authentic way. And if you are doing things from within, then it comes out naturally and it becomes authentic.
And that’s why I am saying that—focus on your inner man. Find out what are you called to do.
If you are able to identify this, then you realize that no matter the challenges that will come your way, you have a purpose. You have a goal. You have something to achieve, and therefore nothing can stop you.
The progress is being made every now and then. And that there are so many challenges. There’s tricks. Not having resources to operate. So many challenges and yet because something is coming from within, I challenge myself to reach that goal.
Any time I rescue a child I feel I've rescued myself. The reason is that I never had anybody to rescue me. And I truly wish I had somebody to rescue me. Not necessarily from the beatings and the abuses I was going through but to have had an opportunity to go through the kind of healing process that I am giving to these children. To have the opportunity to be counseled, and to be treated medically. And to be given the nutritious food and to be given the basic literacy program that I’m giving to those children.
I never had that opportunity. So I am working to rescue myself. So anytime—one child at a time—that I rescue a child, I feel like I've rescued myself.